by Russell T. Burlingame
It's that time of year again--the time when "Fanzing" does an issue on Personal Lives. Alright, so maybe "again" is the wrong word, seeing as (to my knowledge) it's never happened before
but still. This Comics Cabana Extra will explore some of the books that deal a lot with the personal lives of the characters, and how those characters are developed.
AQUAMAN Arthur, King of the Seas, is not a terribly interesting character, but he's been presented so well in his own title that if you read three or four months you're liable to care about Aquaman for the rest of your days. Give it a try but bear in mind it's a guy who talks to fish--the title isn't for everyone.
BATMAN The Bat is in a period of transition right now, of course, with "No Man's Land." I think it's a good one. Of late, Bruce Wayne has been pretty much a non-issue because we all know he's the Bat. He's the most brilliant, most physically fit man on the planet and there's no reason to dedicate too much time to him becuase we'll only find out how wonderful he is and how much we love him. Now, though, without his money and his cave, and living in a world where law is meaningless and order nonexistent, having failed to save his hometown not from villains but from a bunch of rich white guys in Washington, Bruce has to be headed for a crossroads, or a nervous breakdown. The "No Man's Land" story is taking off wonderfully and promises to add some depth and definition to the alter-ego of what is perhaps comics' richest character.
FLASH With his recent wedding, Wally West is going to either continue his reign as the best-written alter-ego in comics, or totally drop the ball, depending entirely on Waid and Augustyn. A man with Wally's past, Wally's personality and the best writer in comics on his title should be destined for the greatness he's sampled since the beginning of Waid's reign but you never know when such a drastic change as becoming a husband (and father ?) can change a man even the fastest man alive.
GREEN LANTERN Seeing as Marz has been writing Kyle since the moment of his creation, the character is pretty consistent and well-written, and regardless of how you feel about the current Green Lantern situation, you have to admit that Kyle is trying to fill in Hal's shoes in as many ways as possible--too many girlfriends, too few supporting characters and frequent, illogical changes of scenery. Kyle himself is a fun, well-developed character with a lot of promise, but the rest of the book leaves a lot to be desired. Jade, born with her powers, has trouble adjusting to a ring that basically replicates them and Alan Scott, now a century old and getting younger all the time, is worried about his thinning hair for the first time since the end of World War II. The more-frequent late-night Warriors sessions with John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Alan Scott and Kyle are wonderful, and John and Guy are portrayed better than they have been in any comic since they had their own monthlies. Overall, Green Lantern is a good title with a lot of promise and a mediocre writer doing his best.
JLA DC's bestselling title about the premiere super-team ever is one that you wouldn't expect to have much needless character development among the main players, and there's not but the give-and-take between them (especially Kyle Rayner's starstruck reaction to many of the "classic" heroes) is priceless. Like any other reviewer, I have very little bad to say about this title pick up every issue until Morrison leaves, because you never know where things could head next!
MARTIAN MANHUNTER The plot is slow and the art takes some getting used to, but the storyline is well-written and the characters, fairly new to a creative team who's dedicated to them, are handled better than you could expect. The title's creativity and its dark feel provides a great backdrop for a book that could excel if the pace picks up a little we'll see what happens.
NIGHTWING Dick Grayson's had a hard life, and he's taking after his mentor by putting himself in Blüdhaven--the worst slum in the Gotham area. With his share of Bruce's money, he could do anything, but he's a hero. He chooses to use his special abilities to help people as a member of the Titans. He's one of the most heroic personalities in comics and one of the most persevering. His determination and willpower would make him a good Green Lantern and the quality of writing with which he's handled should impress anyone with a grasp of DC's history.
ROBIN This is one of the best "personal life" comics there is, as Tim Drake's personal life is constantly overlapping and disrupting his responsibilities as Robin, and on a few occasions (such as the "Robin II: Cry of the Huntress" miniseries), Robin's adventures have created headaches for Tim Drake. From overprotective guidance counselors to oversuspicious girlfriends, Robin is constantly stepping on Tim Drake's toes, and the two can't always figure out how to get around the problems that make both of their lives a living hell. Besides that, it's a great read for excitement and Bat-style fun. Pick it up if you haven't already!
SUPERBOY This title has never focused on the personal life, per se, of Superboy. He's arrogant, narcissistic and shallow, and as much as we love him we have to realize that he'll never change. His relationships are all based on what he can get out of them, even the ones that, for fleeting moments, don't seem like it. It's an interesting approach--his responsibility is little more than a genetic program handed down from Superman, and his powers make him more able to manipulate the people around him than even he realizes. This book has its ups and downs, but overall it's an unusual, interesting, fun direction to be moving.
SUPERGIRL Confusion that's what you'll get. Peter David rarely makes it easy for you to jump onto one of his titles and his new Supergirl is getting weirder all the time. It's nearly impossible to get interested in this title without a tutor, but if you're willing to work on learning the past, the title's worth it.
SUPERMAN This one's a mess, folks let's face it. The writers are always coming up with storylines and then abandoning them, half-finished so that there's no logic to the events that occur in the book. One day Superman is happy as a clam in Lois' arms Clark Kent is the most important part of his life and the next issue, he's hiding away in his fortress like it's the opening chapter of "Kingdom Come." They've tried everything to make Clark Kent interesting--they tried to "kill" him, they've exposed his identity, they've married him and hurt his parents--they've included his ex-girlfriend in a plot by two of the most poweful villains Supes has ever faced and the reporter still isn't even 5% as interesting as Kolshack or Fletch. Clark needs some consistency--and some decent supporting characters (specifically, fewer and better-developed) before we can really look to the Super-titles for support in our search for the perfect character-driven battle for truth, justice and the American Way.
TITANS So far, the infant title has done a wonderful job of showing us the relationships between the members of the team when they're not fighting as well as when they are. An efficient corps of vigilantes on the battlefield and a close-knit family unit off, the Titans represent some of the most tried-and-true relationships in the DCU. If you like the give-and-take of Kyle Rayner and Wally West in "JLA," you can see not only Wally, but some of his oldest friends in "Titans" every month.
WONDER WOMAN Every time I read this book, it interests me less. John Byrne's long run on the title finally complete, maybe the new writer will emphasize Diana's confusing, only mildly interesting personal life a little less and let her be the hero she deserves to be. The whole Amazon thing is really difficult to understand for new readers, and Byrne's tendancy to assume we all knew everything there was to know often provided for disinterest on the part of those of us who haven't read the title since its start. With the new creative team on board, it might be worth another go-round, but don't say I didn't warn you.
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Russell T. Burlingame.
The scanned covers are © 1999 DC Comics.